Old Main, built in 1869, is the largest building in the historic district. The building needs significant repairs. In the winter of 2010 its roof collapsed under the weight of snow leaving a gaping hole that has not been repaired since then. The work that has begun will repair the roof to protect it from further damage during the winter. Crews will also be repairing structural damage from the roof collapse and reestablishing the second floor truss structure.
“This is an exciting step toward saving the Soldiers Home,” said Dawn McCarthy, president of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. “We are encouraged by the VA’s commitment to stabilize one of our community’s most important historical and architectural landmarks.”
All of the buildings in the National Soldiers Home Historic District are being used by the VA except three: Old Main, Ward Memorial Theater and the chapel.
The buildings must be used to provide services for veterans, said Genell Scheurell, senior program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Chicago office.
The buildings will either be restored and reused by the VA or they will be sold to a developer that will restore them and reuse them for veterans services, she said. The Soldiers Home Foundation has been trying to acquire the chapel building, Scheurell said.
In addition to stabilizing Old Main, the VA has committed to similar stabilization work for Ward Memorial Theater, where work is needed to repair roof trusses before a similar collapse occurs, and to address water infiltration issues. Work on the theater is scheduled to begin in November.
“We are proud of how the local community has rallied to save the Milwaukee Soldiers Home’s most threatened buildings,” said Scheurell. “We applaud the Milwaukee VA for their commitment to stabilizing Old Main and the Ward Memorial Theater and look forward to continuing our work to create a vision for the district’s future.”